Thursday, October 29, 2009

U2: ALIVE AT 33 (part I)

U2 doesn’t go out on the road to trot out the hits and keep the fans interested. After 33 years together, they mount shows the same way they make albums: with warriors’ determination to win the battle against alienation and apathy. To make a work of art that is worthy of the time and carbon footprint it asks of us.
And make no mistake: art is indeed worth our investment of time and resources. God knows we ought to take our pulse and our blood pressure every so often to see how we’re doing … that’s what art must do. It broadcasts our collective pulse and blood pressure, paints pictures of our pain and our victories. So that we know they’re there. U2’s medium is performance art, from their earliest days as misfit kids in Dublin. Street theatre and high-concept multimedia are as much a part of their repertoire as Adam’s bass and Larry’s drums.

So the one thing they have never done in their guise as rock stars is go through the motions. Even when they stumble (yeah, that giant lemon: WHAT were they thinking??), it is in the attempt to shock us awake, to make us see something as we’ve not seen it before. But not merely for art’s sake – no.
To see something fresh, to make a new connection, that’s to wake up! to see things as they are. But first you must be disoriented, must lose the relations of things … before you can suddenly see new interrelationships where you saw none before. Creative people know this sensation well – they can’t always live there, but they are comfortable passing through it because they know it brings them closer to the Real. It breaks through a layer or two of the illusion of isolation and separateness. As the pulse of Life throbs in all things, sometimes that pulse becomes visible to us. Sometimes by grace, sometimes by spiritual discipline… sometimes in art.

Here’s what I’ve learned after witnessing U2360: going to see U2 in concert, at this stage in my life and in theirs, is a risky venture. It’s a leap of faith. Because they give so much, and they ask so much – that is, I know they’re taking me to a deep place, where they will ask me to feel. If they succeed in going deep enough, and if they ask the right questions that touch the right nerves, I know I will feel… very deeply. Tonight, 24 hours after we departed each other’s company, my heart hurts. I ache.
I threw myself into a sea of sound.
Lights go down
It's dark, the jungle is --
Your head can't rule your heart
A feeling's so much stronger than a thought

To begin with, the face of this ocean of sound is Bono. His mastery as he matures is something to behold. He is older, sure, but more than that, each phase of life that he himself enters seems to contribute something to his performing gifts. In 2005 he was less chatty than in 2001; while in 2009 there is a truer stillness within him as he moves around the stage, as he pulls the voice up and out of him. Rev. Beth [see U2Sermons at right and the book Get Up Off Your Knees: Preaching the U2 Catalogue] made the observation some years ago that where once Bono the front man took on a prophetic persona, he now strikes a more priestly tone – these are biblical terms, having to do with the manner of exhortation rather than any personal moral attributes. He’s less likely now to climb a scaffolding and wave a flag, and more adept at persuading 50 000 people to lift their voices in praise. He shepherds the crowd, even as he hurls his vulnerability into their arms in complete trust. Dare I say … his ego (about which he’s always been completely candid) is less visible while his strength is moreso.

My dear friend and concert companion (and more casual U2 follower) put it beautifully in her morning-after email: I just love that feeling Bono gives me of being in the presence of greatness. Or more like Greatness, actually. The larger than life-ness that he's got while he's just this little guy walking around that huge contraption, he just ... doesn't look little. Like there's SO MUCH SOMETHING I DON'T EVEN KNOW in that one body, that it's like he's all crowding up in my business even from as far away as he was…

So much something. That's probably always been true of him, it's just that now the "something" is a little harder to name -- Bono's not trying so hard to put the words in our mouths. He's much better now at letting the songs, and the animating spirit of the songs, speak through him.

Which is why I was first dismissive and then perplexed when I read several fan reviews of different 360 shows that mentioned specifically Bono's performance of With or Without You. They reported that he was "bored with it," "tired of it, like he just doesn't care anymore after singing it so much..." Well, accuse the man of a lot of things, but never of forcing himself to sing something every night that he no longer likes or feels inside! With a catalogue like theirs? With the missionary zeal that they bring to building their concerts? It just didn't make sense. So let me begin my reflections on last night's concert at the end of it -- With or Without You is the second-to-last song in the set.
By now, most fans will also have seen it whether they attended shows or not, since the band so generously put up the entire LA concert on youtube. I avoided the live stream of that show, knowing my own show was coming up just 2 days later.

Now I know what those fan reviewers were referring to, and I forgive those who so completely misunderstood the point of that performance -- because they moved me to take a closer look at the entire setlist and find something there more deliberate than I otherwise might have appreciated.
My head is catching up with my heart...

No comments:

Post a Comment